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I must at the outset admit the debt owed to GK Chesterton, for it was on the third reading of his “Eugenics and Other Evils” that his comments about ‘the anarchy from above’ finally made sense. They made sense because they made sense of a variety of other facts and concepts that had more recently come to my mind, and it was Chesterton’s insight that anarchy is not lawlessness, per se, but rather a law applied with no concept of when one will cease applying it. His example is our example: in the name of public health, anything can be justified, and the people who invoke it are incapable of not invoking it, because the principle, unfettered from any boundaries except the conscience and reach of the individual invoking it, naturally, and inexorably, goes on and on and on and on and on… and on.
And so now I add my own thoughts.
What I first would like to do is make some enemies.
I would like to therefore single out liberals, and Progressives in particular, as being the most prominent examples of the intellectual anarchy I have observed. After that, I should like to call attention to the fact that the poisonous premises that drives Progressives can be detected in many others as well–Republicans indeed, and conservatives, as well as ‘Tea Party’ folk, and lastly, to myself.
But who may be the target of this essay? Those who have imbibed of this mad philosophy are drunk with it, and their madness cannot be reasoned with. I shan’t try. It is the saner (as of now) folks I wish to persuade, and what I wish to persuade them of is primarily to ground one’s thinking in reality.
For that is the insanity of Progressive thought: in ultimate terms, it is detached from the world as it really is, and is focused always on their vision of a world the way they wish and work for. However, it is hard work to know what reality really is, in order to reflect on it properly and draw from it proper conclusions. So hard, in fact, to be impossible, so that all of us are immersed in the struggle. But let there be struggle, instead of simpering surrender.
To explain, let me give some images for you to consider.
Imagine a man in a room, who enters through the door and continues to walk. Walking is a perfectly normal activity, and can be rationally practiced. But the intellectual anarchist reasons from this small principle to a large application, and figures that if a little walking is proper than a lot of it must surely be swell. The whole mental operation comes to a halt by the real brick wall at the other end of the room. A realist at that point says, “There are limits to my principle” and stops smashing into the wall. The anarchist smashes himself into the wall several more times, and then, confused, conditions a younger generation to smash themselves into the wall for a bit, until at last the anarchist realizes there is this THING in the way of his walking. Whether or not the wall itself may have had a proper purpose does not cross his mind: he then sets about tearing down the wall until there is a hole to crawl through, and if he scratches himself to pieces that is alright, so long as he can keep walking. If ever he turns around and returns to the room and feels the elements splashing on his face, coming in through the hole in the wall, obviously, he studies the hole in the wall carefully, wondering where it came from and how it came to be.
At this point, another anarchist enters the room, and the two begin conversation. The first thing they agree upon is that a wall is a useful thing to keep the rain out of the house. And if a little wall can do some good, then surely a big wall can do great things. So, they build the wall into the clouds and widen it to such degree that there is no space left to navigate in the room. At this point, the former anarchist remembers how much he liked to walk, and wonders how this wall got in his way. He will get together with a third anarchist and talk about how best to make some holes in the wall, and will probably get on for some time until the wall–now reaching thousands of feet high–fall upon them and crush them all to death.
But of course, there are practical real world reasons for why a house is such that it is, and windows were invented for a reason, and likewise doors and walls. Each is constructed for a particular purpose, and when the purpose is met, the principle that inspired it comes to an end… by reality.
Imagine yet another anarchist, who finds a tree worth climbing. He climbs up several feet, and finding the experience of being up so high exhilarating, builds himself a tree house in order to enjoy the sensation more permanently. As the sensation fades, the anarchist remembers that he first obtained it by elevating his position, and so he climbs a little higher. He repeats the process, with similar effect. The anarchist is under the impression that the principle can go on and on and on, but when the thickness of the principle reduces from thirty inches around to a puny branch, one has reached a limit to how high one can build. The anarchist is offended by limits, however, and refuses to acknowledge them. He will work relentlessly on that tree house built on twigs. He will probably be alright, but the people below, suffering from planks of wood hurtling to the ground or a hammer through the skull, will bear the brunt.
A principle, even the best principle, is like a tree. At the bottom it is thick enough to sustain all manners of things–but not everything. But there are limits, and where the branches are thinnest, one cannot hang great weights, even if one would like to. These limits are sun and soil and even the trees genome, but also other trees that compete for the resources. The anarchist ultimately cuts down the tree and builds a tower, instead.
But if a little tower is good, a big one is better. So, up and up and up the anarchist goes, where it stops, nobody knows… until the peak is too narrow for the workman to place his foot, and it does not seem to go any further. Gravity and the laws of physics intervene, but here we see the real mark of the mental machinations of the intellectual anarchist, because he continues to send workmen up to make the attempt. The anarchist says, “Don’t tell me that the real world won’t allow it! If we can imagine it, we can do it.” But there are things we can imagine that can’t be done, no matter what. The intellectual anarchist has no concept of this.
In the meantime, each new workman displaces the previous one, who falls to his death to make room for the new one.
And that is a bit like the situation we are in today. Most of the things our era’s intellectual anarchists propose do not result in immediate catastrophe. If it did, they would not abandon their anarchy, but they would change their tactic. If the anarchist says, “Damn gravity, I can fly!” and tries, he will die quickly and suddenly. But the anarchist is smart enough to get someone to make the attempt on their behalf. When he sees his stooge fall to his death he says, “Well, that didn’t work. We’ll try again a different way.” The witness is still self-evident. But what the anarchist is far removed from observing the consequence for his action?
To put it another way, imagine our anarchist standing on a ledge. Ah, he knows that’s dangerous, so he steps back, and lets someone else step on the ledge. But what happens if you push that man? He becomes pulp at the bottom. That’s a disconcerting thing to see, so he steps further back, and allows another man to take his place. He gives this second man a shove, who falls into the man on the ledge, and the man falls to his death. This is still too immediate, so he steps back, and allows another man to step in… but shoving people like dominoes remains a fun thing to do, so he still sets the chain reaction in motion, because who can be against fun?
Today’s intellectual anarchists are so far removed from the consequences of their actions, that when they push a man, it is after they themselves die of old age that the final end of their consequences is realized. They put forward a policy or pogrom… er program and continue on their merry way, comforted by the fact that they had good intentions, and surprised when there are poor results–if, that is, they live long enough to see them.
Such is the mindset of the intellectual anarchists of our time.
The intellectual anarchist says, “It is proper for the State to make sure its citizens are healthy.” Whether or not a sane person can embrace this principle I will return to in a moment. For now, consider the fact that this sentiment sounds wonderful. Who can be against healthy citizens? Isn’t it uncaring for the state to leave citizens to their own devices? After all, they may not be as smart and wise as experts, who spend their entire lives studying ‘health’, and may make unwise choices. For this reason, we must outlaw trans fat, or sugar, or salt. We must crack down on the lemonade stands of seven year olds–after all, we don’t know if their kitchen was clean, and people should be able to expect safe foods when they go out to buy things. We must focus our efforts on the fat people.
Fat people cost society money, and that money could be spent on other important programs. But a fat person may want to be fat, or at any rate has no desire to change their behavior. What to do? Why, offer incentives within the health insurance plan (for example, lower rates) for those people who are not fat. And if a person decides not to avail themselves of those incentives, he of course can be dropped from the insurance. If he can afford to pay for his health care out of his own pocket, we will decline to provide it anyway. It’s all for his own good, and who can be against that?
So the reasoning goes, and is manifested throughout the entire public discussion about health care in this country, which is only natural when one has accepted the premise that personal health care should be a public matter.
Where does the reasoning end?
It is a little known fact that in the early part of the 1900s, as the Nazis came to power, just how much of an emphasis on the health of the populace and the nation was in view. Many of the proponents of a ‘fit’ people in the 1920s died at ripe old ages, never seeing what their principle would result in. They shoved the man in front of them, and then they died. Twenty years later, millions of people perished.
Many people would recoil at the comparison, but in fact the comparison is completely valid. All the things that are being said today were said throughout Western civilization in the early part of the last century, minus the racial overtones. The principle has been accepted, and is being acted on, and as before, there is no hint that anyone has any notion of where the principle should end, for obviously when the ‘health’ of a person is in question, every aspect of that person’s life falls under the microscope, and if one feels tasked to ensure the health of that person, it is inevitable that every aspect of one’s life falls under the law.
How does one avoid this insanity? By not becoming involved in it in the first place. This is not done by rejecting out of hand the proposition (for example) that “the state has a proper role in managing the health of its citizens” but by grounding each thought in actual reality, and actual reality will not allow any principle wild, unbound, application. In the real world, every principle has its place and proper proportion. No single virtue is pre-eminent; each and every virtue must compete against each other, and be held in balance. Whenever a virtue or principle is allowed free reign, reality steps in and provides a check and balance. If one insists on defying reality, that’s when you have that thing called ‘pain.’
Intellectual anarchists have adopted the view that everything is relative. Not only is any given virtue not pre-eminent, but they don’t exist at all. To the extent that they have any existence, it is in the form of a mental construct erected by the mutual consent of the populace in a grand social contract. And since they deny that these virtues have objective existence, they are unbound by the constraints that any one of them impose on any of the others. Every virtue is allowed to run wild, devouring whatever it will. Or, if any particular anarchist feels so inclined (and it always reduces in the end to how they feel), they can dispense with one or more of them as they please.
However, God cannot be mocked: a man reaps what he sows. That is, the virtues are real whether one likes it or not, and consequences will follow whenever one is allowed to grow or shrink out of proper proportion or given a place that is not due to it.
The principle “It is good and healthy to walk” must deal with the competing principle “Walls are made of solid stuff, and you cannot walk through them, even if you wanted to.”
Intellectual anarchists have no concept of balancing competing moral principles because they have rejected the reality of moral principles.
A sane person considering the proposition that the state may have any role in the health of its population will be sure to ask questions like, “For whose sake are we acting? The ‘health’ of the ‘State’ or the ‘health of the individuals’?” Or, “What rights and privileges do individuals have that cannot be transgressed upon, regardless of reason, even if for someone’s ‘own good’?” For, if we agree that a man has every right to decide for themselves what ice cream they want to buy and eat, then no other man has the right to intervene, even if he wants to, and even if the man eats himself to death. Another competing moral principle might arise: “But eating ice cream in a time of war means depriving our soldiers of dairy products.” But what is the principle at work, now? It is not the ‘health’ of the individual any more, except insofar that he may really die, if the soldiers are not allowed to preserve his life, and the life of millions of others.”
But when the war ends, the rule should go away.
But that is the mark of the intellectual anarchist: his rules never go away. They increase exponentially and are never repealed. They start out with broad platitudes that it seems no compassionate person could possibly reject, and before you know it their little fingers are reaching into the nooks and crannies of the lives of their fellow men and women, seeping into ever smaller cracks. When finally everything is filled up, and tyranny is upon us, they look around in wonder, shocked that there is no freedom to move about.
Which calls attention to this important fact about intellectual anarchy: it casts itself as a perfect exhibition of freedom; indeed, many of its adherents consider themselves ‘free thinkers.’ But it is not free. It is enslaved, because it never ends. If a man jumps up and down once, we say to ourselves, “There is a healthy, jubilant chap.” If he can’t stop jumping, we conclude he has a psychosis, and lock him away for treatment, observing that in exercising his freedom to jump he is really showing that somewhere and somehow he has become enslaved.
There is freedom in jumping only for a little bit, because when one is free to stop jumping just as much as he is free to start jumping, he is free to do something else, like drink a beer–a difficult thing to do while jumping, by anyone’s measure.
A sane sculptor is not enslaved by recognizing that there are limits to what his materials will allow. He is set free, precisely because he knows what the limits of his materials are. Creativity within the limits of the materials is endless, but try to pretend there are no limits, and you will never have a sculpture.
Only by recognizing that there are real limits around us are we free to act whilst retaining our sanity. Only by recognizing what virtues have basis in reality, and knowing their proper place and proportion, are we able to make sure that calamity will not befall us or our children, or grandchildren.
The examples provided in this essay regarding public health are the tip of the iceberg. I could multiply examples endlessly (thus showing that I have a taste of anarchy about me), but it is well to leave it at this particular example because we are every day surrounded by new rules and requirements about matters concerning our health, in increasingly specific and particular contexts.
This particular example comes because one particular virtue, that of ‘liberty’, is not taken seriously in our society. That is to say, people love to say they love ‘liberty’ but they have never taken the time to think about what the word really means, or what it entails. I do not here refer to its implications on us personally (ie, does having liberty mean you ought to have unlimited license to do everything) but rather on to what degree we feel limited when talking about what we will do to our fellow man. The one who not only says the believe and support ‘liberty’ for their fellow man but really plans on acting as though they believe it, will quickly determine that there are many things that they cannot do to their fellow man, even if they wanted to, even if it was, we feel, in his best interest. But the word stands unexamined, and so it is neutered and useless as a check and balance against other putative virtues, which run about rampant.
I am speaking here of ‘compassion.’ More evil has been done in the name of compassion then in the name of tyranny. I fear evil people, but there is a limit to the evil that they can do. There is no limit to what a compassionate person can do to you, if he is not limited by virtues besides compassion.
So we find that there are three basic rules that govern intellectual anarchy:
Rule 1: There are no rules, we can do as we please for as long as we want, however we want.
Rule 2: People who say there are rules are evil, and must be opposed as intolerant.
Rule 3: Now, let me, the enlightened intellectual, make you some rules… for your own good, of course.
You don’t have to tell me that this is incoherent and irrational. Those are the marks of intellectual anarchy. Rational thought is rational only because it is hemmed in by limits. Chief among those limits is reality itself. A dog cannot be a dog at the same time that it is a cat. You may think otherwise, but you will never find a dog that is both a dog and a cat at the same time in the real world. Only the intellectual anarchist could say that there are no rules and then proceed to make rules. The sane person may make rules, but by admitting that there is a basis for those rules, knows that there are real world boundaries and constraints to those rules; one defies them at one’s peril.
Intellectual anarchy is not intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom comes in the same fashion that freedom comes to the sculptor who knows the limits of his materials. Within the boundaries of actual reality, much can be done. Outside of reality, nothing can be done at all, even if one thinks otherwise.
The most important difference between intellectual freedom and intellectual anarchy is that when the one with freedom walks into the wall, he is delighted to find a window. He sits down in a chair and reads a book. The walking had its purpose. It was a means to an end, and not the end. When the walking was an end, it had no end, and so it was, in the end, tyranny, not freedom.
The intellectual anarchist cannot escape the laws of the universe. He can only be bound by them, until at last, if he succeeds, we are all bound by them.